Originally printed in the January 2021 issue of Produce Business.
United Fresh is looking forward with confidence to building a better business climate for our industry through legislative, regulatory and advocacy programs this year. While our members include Republicans, Democrats and Independents, our mission is to work with all of our leaders in power to represent the versatile industry supply chain.
Already, we have had meetings with a number of members of President-elect Biden’s transition team, including the following:
- Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Rural Engagement Director Will McEntee, and the President-elect’s overall Transition Team for USDA
- NC Secretary of Environment Quality Michael Regan, Nominee for EPA Administrator
- The President-elect’s COVID-19 Transition Team
- The President-elect’s Department of Labor Transition Team
- The President-elect’s White House Head of Public Liaison, Rep. Cedric Richmond
Having now served United Fresh through seven Presidential transitions, I can tell you that these meetings have been open, honest and productive in discussing the President-elect’s priorities and our industry’s needs. From accelerated vaccines for our workers, to immigration reform in the Congress, we are carrying these messages to the highest levels of the incoming Administration.
Let me say a word about our priorities for the year ahead:
First, there will be another COVID-19 relief bill, and we are working hard to support our industry’s needs in this effort. We’re advocating for reimbursement of employers’ costs for steps to keep employees safe, including Personal Protection Equipment, workplace and housing modifications and more. This effort includes accelerated vaccinations for our workers, direct financial support for agriculture and the restaurant/hospitality sector, and sound liability protection for companies that are trying to follow CDC guidance.
From accelerated vaccines for our workers, to immigration reform in the Congress, we are carrying these messages to the highest levels of the incoming Administration.
Second, we finally have a real chance for immigration reform that creates a legal, stable and future workforce for agriculture. President-elect Biden and many in Congress are committed to immigration reform, and we have the best chance in years to ensure that agriculture reform is part of that package.
Finally, we have new opportunities to fundamentally improve federal nutrition programs to bring more fruits and vegetables to Americans. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the reality that those at greatest risk of serious illness and even death are those with pre-existing conditions such as obesity, diabetes and other diet-related conditions. Healthy eating isn’t only important in preventing chronic disease; we now know that it helps protect against the worst impact of communicable diseases such as the coronavirus.
It is time to put nutrition first in government programs designed to support food-insecure Americans as a simple commitment to public health. We kicked off 2021 with this challenge in The Washington Post:
“Mr. Vilsack led the Agriculture Department during the Obama administration to finally put nutrition first in school meals to reflect our nation’s dietary guidelines. Now it’s time to make that a reality in the USDA’s food-purchasing, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and all other feeding programs.”
Now we’ll be working to advance the following:
- Drive federal feeding programs to truly follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
- Support government and private sector efforts to achieve the goal of “Half the Plate” to be made up of fruits and vegetables.
- Make permanent a program like Farmers to Families food boxes, delivering healthy fresh foods to food banks and other community non-profits that appeal to their constituents, as well as funding for adequate refrigeration and storage.
- Ensure that schools have the financial resources, physical capability and leadership commitment to serve healthy fresh foods to children whether in meals, snacks, after-school or summer feeding programs.
Of course, there are many other issues we’ll be addressing through 2021 — food safety, traceability, infrastructure and transportation, international trade, global regulation of crop protection tools, and more.
The United Nations has designated 2021 as the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables. Rest assured that United Fresh will be front-and-center, advocating for your interests domestically and on a global basis.